The Execution of Lorraine Lax - Armley January 1926

The Aftermath

Lorraine's appeal received only a nominal hearing in the Court of Appeal on 21st December 1925. The following days' Manchester Guardian noted

"THREE MURDER APPEALS FAIL The Court of Appeal, consisting of Justices Sankey, Salter, and Swift, yesterday dismissed the appeals of Lorraine Lax, John Fisher, and George Temperton against sentences of death. All the accused appeared in turn in the custody of warders, and the appeals lasted a little less than an hour and a half. Lax was sentenced at Leeds Assizes, for the murder of his wife. Fisher killed a woman with whom he had been living at Birmingham for fourteen years. Temperton was sentenced at Leeds Assizes for murdering a young married woman who was living apart from her husband".

That the appeal should be dismissed is no surprise. The Court of Appeal were, and still are, severely constrained in their judgements. Basically unless there is significant new evidence or the original trial was deeply flawed, they will uphold the original verdict. Lorraine's appeal could offer no new evidence and there was nothing untoward in the original trial. The same ruling applied to the cases of John Fisher and George Temperton - their appeals were also dismissed.

But when I checked the records of UK executions carried out in 1926, there was no mention made of George Temperton. This could only mean that he had been reprieved by the Home Secretary. In the light of this I found a report in the Manchester Guardian dated 27th August 1925 that outlined the murder that George Temperton committed

  


I have not been able to locate the details of John Fisher's murder but from the summary in the newspaper it seems as though he attacked a woman with whom he had been living with for 14 years with a razor. The attack resulted in her death. Fisher said that he was prone to bouts of epilepsy and that was the reason why she died but Mr Justice Salter said that there was abundant evidence that Fisher prepared himself for the murder and that it was his intention to kill the woman. In other words Fisher committed a murder that was pre-meditated. He was executed in Birmingham on 5th January 1926 for this crime.

All three murders involved razors and certainly in Fisher's case there was a strong element of pre-meditation. In fact there is a similar element in the murder of Violet Turner. George Temperton certainly went equipped for murder and even if you believe the story of "a suicide pact" that was put forward by Temperton, it does not disguise the fact that Violet Turner was killed by "a terrible wound to the throat" and that the crime was pre-meditated.

And so of the three murders, the one Lorraine committed was the only one that showed no premeditation or "malice aforethought" (Merriam-Webster Law Dictionary defines the concept as ": deliberate malice : premeditated malice; specif : malice in fact or implied malice in the intention of one who has had sufficient time to act with premeditation in the doing of something unlawful (as in doing serious bodily harm to another person or as in murdering another person)"

I know that in George Temperton's case there was a strong recommendation for mercy by the jury on account of his youth, but the jury at Lorraine's trial had made a similar recommendation for mercy but this was not taken into account by the Home Secretary Joynson-Hicks. There was also a petition signed by 15,000 people requesting that the Home Secretary show clemency towards Temperton but a similar one and other representations made on behalf of Lorraine had no effect whatsoever - they were simply ignored.

And so I am left wondering why Lorraine was executed when George Temperton was reprieved by the Home Secretary Joynson-Hicks. His age may have been a factor but when I checked the records there were instances of people of a similar age being executed - Henry Jacoby age 18 in 1922, Arthur Bishop age 18 in August 1925. But after giving the matter some thought, I would argue that the main reason for the lack of a reprieve was that Lorraine was from Sheffield and George wasn't. To understand why this is important, the murder of Lizzie has to be placed in context. At the time of her death the so-called Sheffield Gang Wars were at their peak. There is an excellent book on the subject by the author J P Bean who covers the period in far greater detail than I can. But in the summer of 1925 the Gang Wars culminated in the murder of an innocent man William Plommer outside his house by members of a Sheffield gang. The members of the gang who carried out the murderous assault were quickly apprehended and charged and after a sensational trial two brothers Wilfred and Lawrence Fowler were found guilty of Willam's murder and sentenced to death. As in the case of Lorraine petitions were made and representations were made but it had no effect on the Home Secretary Joynson-Hicks who did not exercise the Royal Prerogative of mercy. But what makes this case unnerving is that there are strong reasons to believe that neither of the Fowler brothers murdered William Plommer that night. They were present during the assault but the actual  murder was committed by another gang member who escaped the capital charge. This belief that the wrong men were executed was prevalent at the time and over the years these beliefs have grown t. In fact many people who have followed the case believe that there was "reasonable doubt" relating to both the evidence presented and the convictions. Unfortunately for the Fowler brothers Joynson-Hicks did not share these doubts.

The government had taken a very dim view of the activities of the gangs in Sheffield and had demanded the imposition of strong measures and deterrents, but in their eyes the measures that had been taken, proved to be ineffective at best. Joynson-Hicks by failing to intervene in the case of the Fowler brothers believed he was sending out a message to the gangs .

The political career of the Home Secretary Joynson-Hicks has been hotly debated over the years. Some have argued that he was anti-Semitic neo fascist who was possibly the most authoritarian and reactionary Home Secretary that held office in the twentieth century whilst others have maintained that he stood firm against the rising tide of industrial and social unrest that bedevilled Britain in the 1920's. But as far as Lorraine was concerned this was the man who decided his fate. It was always going to be a lost cause. Joynson-Hicks was a man riddled with prejudice and conceit and once he reviewed the case and saw that Lorraine had murdered his wife in Sheffield with a razor, there was no chance of a reprieve. He may even have thought that Lorraine was a member of the Sheffield gangs, and was just like the Fowler brothers who had received their comeuppance the previous September. 

But the sheer perversity and arbitrary nature of  Home Secretary Joynson-Hicks is demonstrated by a case that is almost a mirror image of Lorraine's. I found this report in The Guardian dated 23rd July 1925.

 

Gleave cut his wife's throat, she died of her injury, he was found guilty of murder, sentenced to death with a recommendation for mercy  and then REPRIEVED. Bearing in mind that this case occurred in the same year as Lorraine's crime, one can only wonder at Joynson-Hicks deliberations when he decided who should die and who should live. Precedent does not come into it but prejudice certainly does.

THE AFTERMATH - 2

Notes

In the first 58 years of the 20th century, everyone convicted of murder was still automatically sentenced to death. This situation was slightly modified by The Homicide Act of 1957 (see later). In the 66 years in England and Wales, where the death sentence could still be passed, 1,485 people were sentenced to be hanged by civil courts for murder and 755 were actually executed. The remainder, effectively half of all these, were reprieved (49.2% in total). 1,340 men were to hear the dread words of the death sentence and 741 of them were subsequently hanged, equating to 55.3%.

During the C20th, eleven men from Sheffield were hanged for murder. Out of these 11, 2 were German POW's who were interned at Redmires. Of the remaining 9, 3 were executed within a three month period in 1925-1926, which seems to me to indicate that there were some people in government who were using capital punishment as a means of attempting to diffuse violent and confrontational social unrest, at the expense of "justice" and "fairness"

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